What Is Melodic Death Metal?

At The Gates
Century Media Records

Melodic death metal emerged in Sweden in the mid-1990s, with the releases of At The Gates’ Slaughter Of The Soul, Dark Tranquillity's The Gallery, and In Flames’ The Jester Race. These three albums became the building blocks for the sudden eruption of the Gothenburg metal scene.

Sweden was the epicenter of melodeath, which quickly spread to all corners of the globe. The UK's Carcass was another early melodic death metal band.

Musical Style

Melodic death metal has characteristics of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), with fast riffing and harmonic guitar work. Death metal plays a big role in the sound as well, with fast double bass drum work and distorted guitars.

However, melodic elements also play a major part in the core sound, with clean vocals, acoustic guitars, and keyboards also maintain a strong presence in many melodic death metal bands.

Vocal Style

The vocals are a mix of harsh screams and clean, tuneful harmonies. Death metal style growls are also prevalent, usually blended in with the screams.

At the Gates, Melodic Death Metal Pioneers

The band was already around for half-a-decade when they put out their masterpiece, 1995’s Slaughter Of The Soul. The band took the quick and simple approach, blasting out short bursts of melodic death metal. Experimentation was still a focal point of the band, with subtle acoustic work sprinkled throughout the album. A year after its release, the band would split up, reuniting for a few shows in 2008.

1995’s The Gallery was their breakout album, the first with new vocalist Mikael Stanne, who replaced Anders Fridén, who went on to join In Flames. The Gallery is a strong album, one that wasn’t afraid to break the five-minute mark and add classical elements into their guitar work. Dark Tranquillity would go on to have a long-lasting career, carving out a legacy built on an aggressive metal sound, with subtle keyboard work present.

The Jester Race is a fast-paced album, with the guitar duo of Jesper Strömblad and Glenn Ljungström tearing up the landscape, while Fridén’s barks are easily understandable. The band kept songs near the five-minute mark, with two instrumentals to showcase a progressive side of the quintet. The Jester Race would mark the beginning of a long and successful career for the Swedish band, even garnishing some commercial success for the band in their later years.

The British band Carcass formed in 1985 and was more of a grindcore band in their early days. They made the shift to melodic death with 1993's Heartwork and also released 1996's Swansong before disbanding. They eventually reunited and made a stunning comeback with 2013's Surgical Steel, which received critical acclaim including being named the best heavy metal album of 2013.

Today's Melodic Death Metal Stars

In addition to the original genre pioneers that are still around today, some of melodic death metal's other successful bands that have carried on and expanded their legacy include Children Of Bodom, The Black Dahlia Murder, Amon Amarth, Soilwork, and Insomnium.

Recommended Melodic Death Metal Albums

At The Gates - Slaughter Of The Soul
Dark Tranquillity - The Gallery
In Flames - The Jester Race
Scar Symmetry - Pitch Black Progress
Soilwork - Natural Born Chaos
Into Eternity - Buried In Oblivion
Hypocrisy - Virus
Edge Of Sanity - Purgatory Afterglow
Amon Amarth - Once Sent From The Golden Hall
Carcass - Heartwork